Basic guidelines for research ethics
- The Ethics Review Act (in Swedish)
- The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (pdf)
- The Swedish Research Council’s publication Good Research Practice
- Uppsala University’s Guidelines on the procedure in the event of suspected deviations from good research practice
- The Vancouver recommendations for co-authorship
Guidelines, codes, laws and regulations
A variety of guidelines, ethical codes and recommendations discuss what constitutes good practice. These possess a moral authority to the extent that they express the fundamental principles of trust, truthfulness, respect and responsibility. Numerous regulations and laws also govern how research is to be conducted.
Basic ethical requirements for research on humans are found in, for example, the Ethics Review Act (in Swedish) and the National Archives has regulations and general advice on archiving and screening documents involved in the University’s research activities (in Swedish). For a guide to all these documents, see Codex, a Swedish Research Council web page operated in collaboration with Uppsala University.
The basis for considerations of research ethics at Uppsala University is The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (pdf), the foremost guideline for good practice in research, created by All European Academies (ALLEA), as well as the EU-supported Global Code of Conduct for Research in Resource-Poor Settings, which aims to counteract so-called “ethics dumping” – i.e. to lower ethical requirements when conducting research in other countries. These codes are mandatory for research receiving funding support within the European Union’s programmes.
In Sweden, the Swedish Research Council has compiled a publication called Good Research Practice, which discusses how the relevant laws and ethical requirements and recommendations apply to research work. The purpose is to orient, inspire reflection and contribute to discussion about responsibilities and challenges so that researchers and doctoral students can more easily make well-reasoned decisions on research ethics. Note that some references to the regulations could be out-of-date; please check them against CODEX.
At Uppsala University, there are Guidelines on the procedure in the event of suspected deviations from good research practice that define what constitutes misconduct and how reporting and investigation is done. Uppsala university also have issued guidance on how to handle human remains (in Swedish)
The Uppsala Codex (in Swedish) appeals to every researcher’s conscience on issues related to participation of research in weapons production and matters related to future generations’ health and safety. It was developed by researchers in Uppsala a few decades ago.
For anyone working for the government (which you do as an employee at Uppsala university), it is important to know and understand the basic values governing the state, see Common basic values for central government employees.
Questions on intellectual property in research are addressed in Guidelines for intellectual assets created at Uppsala university (pdf). See also the university Checklist for research agreements.
Authorship and co-authorship
Regarding questions of who rightfully should be credited as a scientific author, it is important to consider how different concepts of authorship are used in different fields. In many humanities fields, a classic concept of authorship is taken for granted, where the work mainly involves writing and where the researcher is the sole writer. In this case the monograph is the preferred form of publication.
In many social sciences and natural sciences subjects, co-authorship has become increasingly common. A combination of different skills are responsible for reporting the work that has taken place – for example, through observations or experiments. In this case the article is the most common way to disseminate the results.
Thousands of publications have adopted a recommendation for co-authorship from a group of medical journals, known as the Vancouver Group, which defines a co-author as someone who meets the following four criteria:
- Has made a substantial contribution to the research itself, and
- Has provided an important intellectual contribution to the writing of the report, and
- Has accepted the version to be published, and
- In this way has accepted responsibility for the report if questions regarding its accuracy or integrity should arise.
Here is a short film that explains the point of the recommendation:
For Uppsala University, this recommendation serves as a starting point for assessing unjustified assertion of co-authorship combined with any instructions from the journal and current practices in the scientific field.
Researchers commonly use contributorship as a starting point, especially in large-scale scientific projects. It is common in this case to list all those involved as originators of a report or article, sometimes as a group rather than individuals. The forms such contributorships take normally are worked out through an agreement in the relevant project.
Keep in mind that the principle of public access to official documents applies to research conducted by society, municipalities, county councils and the central government. This means that the data collected in the research may be requested for public release (Freedom of the Press Act – 1949:105). Certainly privacy prevails in medical, behavioural and social sciences, but that does not prevent the public from having access to these data. For example, reviewers for journals or for a defence of a thesis, people assigned to investigate misconduct or other researchers who want to use the material for additional research may be authorised to do so.
In a precedent-setting decision, the Central Ethical Review Board stated that information to participants should include a statement like this: “Your responses and your results will be processed so that no unauthorised persons can access them.” Source: Central Ethical Review Board decision, registration number Ö 5-2004.)
Encoded personal data is not the same as data that is anonymised. References to encoded data as anonymous, anonymised or de-identified should not be used if you do not intend to say that the code is destroyed and that identification is no longer possible.
The Swedish Data Inspection Board states the following about personal data:
“All information that directly or indirectly can be attributed to an individual is personal data. This means encoded data is subject to the law as long as a code key is preserved that can be used to identify specific individuals. Where and with whom the key is stored is irrelevant.” (Source: Data Inspection Board’s decision 03/07/2015, reference number 580-2014 (pdf, in Swedish) and 559-2014 (pdf, in Swedish).
Patient data in health and medical care is especially sensitive and thereby subject to privacy. The Swedish Patient Data Act does not allow you direct access to patient data to search for suitable patients for your research. Before patient data may be disclosed to another individual, the health care provider needs to conduct a confidentiality assessment; electronic direct access to patient data can then be provided only to those who work with the health care provider or who are allowed to have such access to the data according to the Swedish Patient Data Act. Source: Data Inspection Board’s decision 24/05/2018, reference number 2495-2017 (pdf, in Swedish).